My Conservative Grandfather Would Have Hated “The Green Investor Gag Rule”
During the Great Depression, my paternal grandfather lost most every material possession. He moved his wife and two young children into a tiny home with no running water, deep in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania. He was a doctor, but many of his patients could pay him only with chickens and produce, if anything at all.
He managed to hold onto one piece of paper that was a reminder of his former wealth. It was also a tiny promise of influence with and potential reward from the business world that he so equated with progress and prosperity.
It was a stock certificate for the company that is now called ExxonMobil.
It may be hard to imagine now. But, for many of his generation, even someone who grew up in an orphanage as he did, owning stock meant more than reaping the profits or suffering the losses of a corporation. It also meant having a say in that business. It was like registering to vote at the town hall gave him a democratic say in the affairs of his town, state, and nation.
When an invitation to the annual shareholders meeting appeared in his mailbox, he read it closely. He perused the list of proposed directors of the board, mostly people he had never heard of, but who he assumed were worthy of the honor and power. He paid close attention to the shareholder resolutions and dutifully mailed in his proxy votes.
My love of nature is the product of spending much of my childhood summers at my grandfather’s since-expanded home in the Poconos[i] But my worldview came to, shall we say, differ from his. And, by “differ”, I mean “couldn’t talk about politics for 10 years without local wardens of the peace going on alert”[ii].
The Green Investor Gag Rule
My grandfather has passed now. But I feel confident that we would have agreed on one piece of paper currently circulating in Washington, DC. He would have been appalled by the “Green Investor Gag Rule”.
The proposal is now making its way through the Senate as part of the Financial CHOICE Act. In the big scheme of things, it might not amount to a hill of beans, to quote one of his favorite movies. It simply increases how much of a stake in the company someone must have in order to file a resolution on which all shareholders can vote. Right now, anyone with $2,000 of stock can make a proposal. The Gag Rule says you have to own 1% of the company for three years straight. (For my grandfather’s beloved ExxonMobil, that’s about $3 5 billion nowadays. Suffice it to say that, had he held onto his stock certificate, it wouldn’t be worth quite that much[iii].)
He’d have voted against most of the pro-environment resolutions my friends at the Green Century Funds and other socially-responsible investors have gotten on the ballots at ExxonMobil, Starbucks, Chevron, et.al.
But he’d have been damned — or worse — if some snooty, far-off, Rockefeller wanna-be was going to take away his say, no matter what the topic or the stakes.
When I travel to my hometown next week, I’ll stop by his grave, for what would be his 122nd birthday.
I’ll tell him, “I’m going to write to the guy who’s now the Congressman here – yes, that geeky kid who lived down the block from you and was on my brother’s swim team – exactly what you would think about that Gag Rule.”
But, when I relay that message, I’ll use more gentle language than he would have.
— K.D. Weinert
[i] It had running water by the time I arrived, but still depended on an outhouse, coal-fired stove, washboards, and clotheslines for drying.
[ii] About the only thing we could agree on was that Babe Ruth was the greatest baseball player of all time . . . and I had to bow to his authority on that matter, as he had seen him – and everyone since then — play and I had not.
[iii] My Pop-Pop’s admiration of what was then called Jersey Standard only went so far. In the late ‘40s, he sold his stock, so that his son, my father, could be the first in his family to go to a four-year college.